Postnatal nutrition

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In Traditional Chinese Medicine it was usual after the birth for the mother to rest and just focus on the baby; the ancient Chinese believed that if you didn’t pay attention to the new soul it would leave. Warming, healing and nourishing foods, such as soups and iron rich foods were believed to build up qi (energy).

In many European countries it is traditional to offer the mother some warming chicken soup, but this is unlikely to happen in the UK. This is why it’s important to plan and have plenty of good quality ingredients stored in the fridge and kitchen cupboards to tide you over the first few days at home.

“Although your diet in the third trimester should have helped to build up your energy levels, you will probably feel very hungry once you and your baby find time to rest after all of the excitement of her or his arrival.”

You will need a nutrition-packed, balanced diet to help the body heal. As your milk ‘comes in’ during the next few days you’ll need something warming, comforting and not too demanding to eat or to digest. What you eat after you have given birth may depend on the time of day (or night). There may be something that you crave in these first few hours, but remember that you should still avoid certain foods that may cause illness because of your lowered immune system.

If you have given birth at home, you may well be able to eat a good home-cooked meal, but in hospital that may be a little harder! However, you may at least be able to have a flask of warm soup or some fresh supplies. You will certainly need to drink plenty of fluids. Water and watered-down pure fruit juice are both hydrating and refreshing.

You will need to avoid becoming constipated in the next few days as your perineal region will be tender and you should avoid straining to pass stools, so a fresh smoothie made from a variety of fruits would be a good idea, along with any chunks of fresh fruit.


Maintaining a healthy diet now that you are feeding your baby with breastmilk is just as important as when she or he was in the womb. Looking after a baby is hard work too, so you need to keep yourself well nourished and your energy levels topped up.

What you eat will determine the nutritional content of your baby’s milk, so continuing to follow a healthy diet is essential. It is vital that you drink plenty of fluids – at least 1.5 litres per day, plus one or two cups of herbal tea and glasses of diluted fruit juices. Your diet should be based on:


  • Wholegrains
  • Protein
  • Fruit and vegetables
  • Essential fats
  • Calcium


Key nutrients:


  • Vitamin A to aid the development of your baby’s hearing, vision, sense of taste and to boost her or his immune system
  • B vitamins to help prevent fluctuations in blood sugar levels and improve your milk flow
  • Vitamin C for absorption of iron, making blood vessels, connective tissues, collagen and improving the immune system
  • Vitamin D to boost absorption of calcium and building and maintaining healthy bones
  • Vitamin E for brain and nerve development
  • Vitamin K which is needed by your baby for blood clotting
  • Calcium to replenish the calcium that your baby takes from your breast milk
  • Iron for you and your baby to manufacture haemoglobin
  • Zinc needed for the healing of tissue, production of hormones and to help prevent postnatal depression
  • Omega 3/DHA – an essential fatty acid crucial to the development of your baby’s brain

Further reading

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